From the Star Ledger 1-24-05 Long read but worth it.
Zulima Farber's nomination as state attorney general was approved by a state Senate committee yesterday after sharp questioning from Republicans about both her legal positions and her driving record.
Testifying for over three hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Farber defended her support of gun control and her opposition to mandatory minimum prison sentences.
She also fought off criticism that her driving record, which includes 13 traffic violations and four bench warrants for failure to appear in court, indicates she lacks respect for the law. Aides to former Gov. James E. McGreevey used similar arguments to scuttle Farber's potential nomination to the state Supreme Court in 2003.
"I would invite you to ask every court where I have appeared and ask those judges if I have shown respect," Farber said. "I have the utmost respect for the law."
The committee approved Farber's nomination, 8-2, with Sens. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) and Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) casting the two dissenting votes. The full Senate is expected to take up her nomination Monday, said Senate Democratic spokesman Jim Manion.
Democrats on the committee said Gov. Jon Corzine made an excellent choice in tapping Farber for attorney general.
"I feel safer and I am confident New Jersey families will feel safer with her as attorney general," Sen. John Adler (D-Camden), the committee chairman, said in casting his vote.
In her opening remarks, Farber, 61, of North Bergen, said her mission as attorney general would be to restore the public's confidence in government. "Confidence, however, must be won. It must be earned," she said. "It does not happen with platitudes. It does not happen through the force of good intentions alone. It happens through action, through large, attention-getting programs, certainly, but more fundamentally through the day-to-day, mundane, maybe even sometimes boring, pursuit of excellence."
Farber, who fled Fidel Castro's Cuba as a teenager and is currently a partner in the law firm Lowenstein Sandler of Roseland, would be the first Hispanic to hold the position. Over her 31-year career as an attorney, she has also worked as an assistant prosecutor in Bergen County, assistant counsel to then-Gov. Brendan Byrne and public advocate and public defender for then-Gov. James Florio.
The appointment is considered one of Corzine's most important because of his campaign pledge to make ethics a top priority in his administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Farber will replace Attorney General Peter Harvey, who has been criticized for failing to bring significant public corruption cases during his tenure.
After the vote, Farber hugged a stream of supporters who offered their congratulations. She interrupted the well-wishers to tell reporters she was "thrilled" with the nomination even though she felt the questions about her driving record were "humiliating."
During the hearing, though, Farber was alternatively apologetic and defensive about her traffic citations. "I've had some personal problems with driving. I apologize to this committee and the people of this state for that flaw," Farber said. "And I thank the governor for giving me a job with a driver."
When Cardinale continued to press her on the bench warrants, however, Farber responded: "Senator Cardinale, I have apologized for my mistake. I don't know what else you want me to do."
Farber also was questioned repeatedly about her views on handguns and mandatory minimum sentences. She testified that her views on gun control came into focus during her first week on the job as assistant counsel to Byrne. Farber had just returned to her apartment in North Brunswick when a teenage boy mugged her in the apartment's parking lot. She said the boy put a knife to her throat before taking her wallet and running away. "My first thought was, 'I wish I had a gun, I would shoot him in the back,'" Farber said. "That scared me to death. I don't believe people should run around with guns. The police should have guns."
Cardinale and Kyrillos both questioned Farber extensively about her criticism of mandatory minimum sentences. She serves on a commission that last month advocated abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences for dealing narcotics in "drug-free zones" around schools, parks and public buildings.
Farber testified she opposes mandatory minimums because they eliminate a judge's discretion when imposing sentences, not because she wants criminals to get off easy.
Lawmakers also asked Farber about some of the state's ongoing public corruption probes, including one into allegations by a South Jersey councilman that Camden County Democratic boss George Norcross III pressured him to oust his township's attorney. Each time Farber vowed to "pursue every allegation of corruption in this state."
"I'm going to review every open investigation and try to complete it as expeditiously as possible," she said. "I have no sacred cows."
Farber testified she plans to give special attention to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the Schools Construction Corp., both of which have come under scrutiny for allegations of cronyism, misspending and waste.
Last month, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie appointed a federal monitor to oversee UMDNJ's administration and $1.6 billion budget, under a deal to allow the university to escape criminal prosecution related to Medicaid overbilling.
"That's a state institution and I believe it should be primarily a state matter," Farber said. She later said she would ask Christie if the state could take over the monitoring process.
As for the SCC, which the state set up about three years ago to manage an $8.6 billion overhaul of public schools across New Jersey, Farber said, "This is a case of follow the money. There's so much money, as at UMDNJ, that this deserves special attention."